Lauren Alaina came into our living rooms at the very young age of 15 when she appeared on American Idol, the reality TV show that made household names out of the likes of Kelly Clarkson, Daughtry, Jennifer Hudson and Carrie Underwood.
It’s hard to believe that it’s been five years since she was chosen as runner-up of Season 10—coming in second to fellow country artist Scotty McCreery. The now-21-year-old has been through some tumultuous times in her life, but she has come a long way from the 15-year-old teen that was thrust into the very bright spotlight.
“I’ve changed so much,” Lauren tells Nash Country Daily. “There are things about me that have stayed the same, but I have changed quite a bit. I was so insecure. I just had severe insecurity problems, and I still do, but nothing like I did. I was on Idol at 15, and I turned 16 on the show. People aren’t always nice, you know? Which is shocking when you’re 16. I just read things about myself that were awful. I can’t believe someone would actually sit there and type it up, but I think people just get behind their computers and they’re sad or upset about something and it makes them feel better. Like they have some kind of power to say bad things about other people. I was not prepared for that.”
No one at any age, much less 16, could prepare for the ugliness that was thrust upon her. But what resulted was far worse.
“I actually had an eating disorder for four years,” reveals Lauren—something she wasn’t able to talk about publicly until a little more than a month ago. “I had it before the show. But it got dramatically worse after [American Idol]. I dropped 40 pounds after the show aired. I was 25 pounds underweight. It was ridiculous. It was not good. My hair was falling out—I had bald spots all over my head. I seriously messed my stomach up. I was very very unhealthy.
“I went to the doctor for my vocal chords, because I was really struggling with my vocal chords,” Lauren adds. “The doctor asked if I had ever had an eating disorder. I was like, ‘Uh, no.’ My mom was in the room and I was like, ‘No.’ My mom said, ‘Lauren’. You know, like in that mom tone. I lost it. I thought I was hiding it. You know you always think when you’re doing something you shouldn’t be doing that no one knows. For my mom to know really embarrassed me. They sent me to a beach house with my mom for two weeks and put me on vocal rest, so I wasn’t allowed to speak at all. It really made me think, and I think that was part of the point. It was really for my voice, because my voice was done. It was destroyed at that point. My mom pretty much stayed with me at all times to make sure that there were no problems. I had bulimia, that’s why I was destroying my vocal chords.
“So for me to say I’ve changed from then to now—I’ve drastically changed. I’ve gotten a lot more sure of who I am in my artistry. I’ve written so many songs in that time period, that I kind of have an idea of who I want to be.”
With time to heal and reflect, Lauren found herself thankful for what she went through because it resulted in her new song, “Road Less Traveled.” Written by Lauren, “Road Less Traveled,” the second single from her upcoming album—due out later this year—is about her own journey but she wants the song to speak to others about what they feel about themselves.
“It’s a super happy song,” the Georgia native explains. “It really describes me, I think, as a person. I’m outgoing and I’m always making jokes. I have this really serious side of me that I’ve kind of had to overcome and I want people to know that, because I feel like as an artist, as a person in the public eye, people think you’re a super hero. It’s almost like they think we are invincible and we’re these super humans. I’m going to tell you right now, there’s nothing super human about me. I am a train wreck.”
Lauren grew up in Rossville, Ga., to parents Kristy and J.J. Suddeth—Alaina is her middle name. After her stint on American Idol, the blonde stunner released her first album, Wildflower, in 2011, which included the single “Georgia Peaches.” Releasing a single here and there, things stalled with Lauren’s career. In that time frame she was dealing with her parents divorce (both have since remarried), her father’s alcoholism (he got sober in 2013) and her eating disorder, all the while writing about her experiences.
“I just feel like when I was growing up, there were so many songs that made you proud to be who you were. Like, [Shania Twain’s] ‘Man I Feel Like A Woman’ and [Martina McBride’s] ‘This One’s for the Girls.’ All of these songs that were super inspiring as far as feeling good in your own skin and you’re not alone. I wanted to write a song like that, and ‘Road Less Traveled’ is that song for me. Actually, a lot of the songs on the album have this message, because it’s what I’m most passionate about. It’s super fun and I feel like it kind of showcases my personality, but it also has a serious message that I think people will benefit from hearing. It’s really universal.
“I wanted to share my story because I think that some of my favorite artists just own what they are going through and share it. It’s so healing for everyone. It’s healing for them to write it, it’s healing for people to hear and think, ‘Oh my gosh, I’m not alone.’ I’ve written stuff about my parents divorce and my dad’s alcoholism and my eating disorder. For a while, I was just writing songs about boys and fluffy whatever songs—which are great—but I feel like I needed to write about what was actually going on in my life. When I did, I started feeling so much better.
“I had a girl recently tell me she had an eating disorder and that I have really inspired her to get better. That’s like— I wrote a song that made her feel that way, you know? That’s what it’s all about. It’s not about how many sales you get on your song or how much it gets played on the radio. It’s about actually making a difference. That’s the goal, and it’s crazy you can do that with music. I’m like, ‘I hit the lottery with this music thing.'”
Country music hit the lottery the day American Idol introduced us to that young lady from Georgia. While eating disorders may be an uncomfortable topic to talk about, Lauren wants to share her story to help anyone going through what she did—and if a song comes out of her story, all the better.
“It’s so scary to talk about it, because I’m not perfect still. I think I had to talk about it at some point. As uncomfortable as it makes me, there are people out there who feel just as uncomfortable that need to hear it. There was a window when I was not happy, but I’m doing so much better now.”
Photo by Tammie Arroyo / AFF-USA.COM